"Homeland": In Carrie we (should) trust

Carrie may be in a fragile state, but that doesn't mean she's off her game

By Roxane Gay

Published October 8, 2012 6:00AM (EDT)

We’re two episodes into the season, and already the major narrative threads for each of the main characters have revealed themselves: For Brody, they regard how long he can conceal the truth of his allegiance to Abu Nazir, and the depth of his mental damage. And, for Carrie, how long the CIA will leave her out in the cold because they believe her to be too mentally unstable. If tonight’s episode is any indication, the answer is, not long.

The title of this episode is called “Beirut Is Back,” but it could have just as easily be called, “Carrie Is Back” because we see her on top of her game, lucid, sharp and ready to get the job done. We’re in Beirut as the morning call to prayer sounds throughout the city. In a mosque, women pray, and among them, Fatima Ali, Carrie’s CIA asset, who is the first wife of Hezbolla district commander Abbas Ali. Outside of the mosque, Carrie is there to greet Fatima who wants to know if the $5 million reward for Abu Nazir is still on offer — there are bills to pay, you know. She also has other requests: passage to the United States, which is always an interesting prospect, this idea of the United States as a promised land, even in this day and age. Carrie assures her safety, so Ali gives up the goods: Nazir is meeting her husband the next day in Beirut. The CIA can kill them both, Ali says blithely. Marriage is complicated.

At a chic gathering in Washington, the vice-president informs Brody that the Israeli airstrikes in Iran were only partially successful. One of the sites is too deeply buried for Israeli ordinates — the Israelis need a bigger bomb. The party’s hosts have a penetrating bunker buster that will “get the job done,” but the president is blocking the export license, which the vice-president takes serious issue with. He is all American brawn as he tries to make the case for these bombs because, you know, bigger bombs have always been a good way to solve complex, long-standing international problems. Brody tries to rationalize the president’s decision, but the vice-president presses forward, saying the president is only riding out his term and that dealing with Iran falls on him, which is a unique kind of hubris. It’s always strange when politicians act like they are single-handedly responsible for a situation that dwarfs them so completely they are inherently irrelevant. Or, you might say the vice-president is on a crusade. The real point of the conversation is that he wants Brody’s help to convince the secretary of defense about the urgency of sending the bunker-buster bombs to Israel. Brody is, apparently, political Midas now and what Brody wants, Brody gets, unless we’re talking about peace of mind. Brody is disconcerted but his mask is firmly in place

Brody’s wife and the vice-president’s wife, Cynthia, are socializing politely in that way that people jockeying for social position do. Madame Veep ("Mad Men’s" Roger Sterling’s ex-wife, as it happens) has an opportunity for Jessica — to host a benefit for “the veterans,” a catch-all term these days. The exchange really highlights how disingenuous these political fundraisers can be. “The veterans” are just some nebulous entity providing an opportunity for wealthy people to don overpriced clothing, eat rubbery chicken, and imbibe freely from an open bar. Charity: It begins at home. Jessica agrees after Brody interrupts their conversation and he quickly hustles them out of the party, telling his wife that the hosts of the party make bombs. Jessica is not amused. Yup, marriage is complicated all right. It’s fascinating to see how fully indoctrinated Brody is, how his unwavering commitment to Nazir, which saved him, endures now that he’s free, and how he copes in the aftermath.

Carrie turns up at the safehouse late — much later than expected. Saul is enraged because Carrie met with Ali without him. Everyone at the CIA still thinks she’s crazy and believes she cannot handle even the most basic of tasks. Carrie is just coming to realize that no one trusts her judgment but she drops her bomb, so to speak, that Nazir and Ali’s husband will be meeting the next day. Suddenly, Saul isn’t so worried about her mental stability anymore.

In Washington, Estes and Scott, from special ops, Skype with Saul and Carrie in Beirut. The CIA! They’re just like us. The meeting between Nazir and Ali will take place in a Hezbollah stronghold and in a heavily populated neighborhood, which immediately raises concerns: They don’t want Blackhawk Down redux. Everyone is hesitant to make a move on the meeting except Carrie, who is as committed as ever to taking Nazir down. Which doesn’t help matters or assure anyone, least of all Estes, when he learns Saul wasn’t at the meeting with Fatima Ali — he’s perhaps most mistrustful of Carrie’s judgment. But it’s hard to take Estes seriously about these matters because, after all, isn’t he still bitter about their affair and the mess it made of his life (as if he had nothing to do with it)?

As Jessica and Dana pull up to the vice-president’s home, Jessica pleads with her daughter to be on her best behavior. Still, she is eager to know — though tries to ask her as casually as possible, so she doesn’t seem freaked out — what Dana saw when she witnessed her father praying (it’s always healthy to insert your children into the middle of marital strife). Dana imitates her father’s praying and says, “It was kind of weird.” Jessica is incapable of concealing her discomfort with Brody’s newfound faith. As the mothers talk, Dana and the vice-president’s son, Finn, engage in adolescent witty banter that mostly involves saying nothing of consequence. He holds his hands in front of his face, with only a sliver of space between them, and says he’s trying to picture Dana in a burka. He’s classy but Dana gives in to peer pressure and laughs as she gives him the middle finger. This is how young love begins. And what of Xander? Who knows? Perhaps congressman Brody won’t be the only conflicted Brody this season.

As Carrie freaks out alone in a room, she overhears Saul and Estes discussing her reliability. They are not helping matters. Carrie tries to hold it together and soon, she can’t. When Carrie is having these episodes, we see the similarities between her and Brody, how their bodies become tightly coiled with wild emotion, how they can barely stay within their own skin, how they are both desperately committed to what they believe in, how that commitment was born of trauma. She runs to the roof and Saul finds her there, tells her it isn’t safe. They have an uncomfortable conversation about what has largely gone unspoken — that the last time Carrie was so deeply convinced of something, it seemed she was terribly wrong. The tension of seeing both sides of the story where Carrie’s mental state is concerned gets more and more fraught each week. Carrie pleads her case with Saul, admits she wouldn’t trust who she is right now but that she does trust the Carrie who recruited Fatima Ali.

The CIA has come up with a plan to assassinate Abu Nazir. The vice-president invites Brody to watch the mission unfold like it’s a movie or a video game (and it kind of is) while Carrie and Saul listen in from Beirut. At first, Brody doesn’t know quite what he’s watching. The action goes back and forth from the situation room at the CIA to the streets of Beirut where Ali’s men engage in an elaborate plan to clear the streets and ensure Nazir’s safety. “Homeland always does an excellent job of showing what modern warfare looks like, how the men making the decisions are always at a remove, in comfortable, climate-controlled rooms surrounded by expensive technology, while the men on the ground have dust in their teeth.

When Brody learns Abu Nazir is the target of the mission, his breathing becomes rapid, shallow, his face lined with anxiety. He hides his phone beneath the table and tries to reconcile the precariousness of his position. He discreetly sends a warning text message to Nazir, who turns up for the meeting. Of course, Carrie was right, but we already knew that. The snipers fire two shots. Once Nazir gets the text, he is immediately shoved into a waiting SUV and driven to safety and everyone realizes that somehow, there was a canary in the coal mine.

In the meantime, Saul and Carrie pick up Fatima Ali. As Ali gets into the car, Carrie ignores the warnings of Saul and another CIA operative, and dashes into Ali’s apartment in a fact-finding mission that might help them take Nazir down. Say what you will about Carrie, but she gets the job done and has a complete disregard for her physical or emotional safety when it comes to being a good operative. On the street, things are getting dicey as angry young men surround the waiting SUV. Fatima Ali shrinks in her seat, wants nothing more than to drive away. She has $5 million waiting for her, after all. She even urges Saul to drive off, leaving Carrie behind. Loyalty isn’t what it once was. As Carrie rifles through the husband’s things, the situation on the street deteriorates. After a young man smashes the SUV windshield with a bat, they drive off. Once Carrie grabs a few important-looking papers and shoves them into a bag, she is chased by the men on the street, now armed, and we get to enjoy a straight up Bourne trilogy action sequence. Carrie is rescued just in time.

Back in the United States, Brody meets with Roya Hammad in a deserted parking lot, late at night. He can barely control his rage. “I am a congressman,” he says, “You get that, right? A U.S. congressman. I cannot be sending secret text messages while surrounded by the fucking joint chiefs!” Hammad, in the understatement of the year, responds, “I know it’s been difficult.” She tries to soothe Brody, and Nazir’s fingers are all over her words as she says, “He needs you.” Brody is left alone with the impossibility of everything. He goes to meet his Marine buddies at a bar, because Mike asked him to look into Walker’s death, and one of them simply cannot let go of Walker missing two shots because he was such a sharpshooter. It’s yet another tense moment, where those around Brody have the truth just beyond their grasp.

At home, Brody tries to hold it together even though the walls are closing in from all sides. He finds Dana in her room, chatting on her laptop and, as you might expect, she’s talking to young Finn — modern love, one keystroke at a time.

As the episode closes, Saul and an underling are in Beirut, looking through the papers Carrie grabbed from Ali’s home — they appear to lead to nothing. As he’s putting the papers away, Saul notices a microchip in the bag Carrie grabbed, and on it, Brody’s video he made before he planned on killing the vice-president. Finally, someone else knows Carrie was right all along even though there’s an ambiguity to the video that won’t hold up if Brody is questioned. Ending the episode with this clip of Brody, sharply dressed in his Marine uniform, righteous in his convictions, is a sublime way to bring events full circle. It allows us to believe that between Carrie and Brody, one of them might be redeemed.


Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay's writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Oxford American, the Rumpus, the Wall Street Journal and many other publications

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